Etambuyu A. Gundersen
2016 - Etambuyu A. Gundersen, Special Assistant to the Resident Coordinator funded by Norway, shares her story about how it is to be a SARC in South Sudan.
My motivation for becoming a SARC
What is your motivation for working in the field of development?
I am idealistic. I believe in the work that the United Nations does- staying and delivering - even in instances when national systems fail. For me this is the ultimate motivation, to be a part of an organization that looks out for all mankind from a rights-based perspective.
What was your motivation in becoming a SARC?
I wanted to learn about the UN system as a whole. In my previous job as governance analyst in UNDP Jerusalem, my work was confined to UNDP and the line ministry I engaged with under my portfolio, which was the Ministry of Planning. When it was time to move on, I realized that perhaps working in the Resident Coordinator’s office would give me the insight I needed to understand how the UN functions. As both Special Assistant and Coordination Specialist I can confirm that this experience has really been eye opening and rewarding. It has been a fantastic vantage point from where one understands the different mandates of the UN agencies, the importance and value of coordination in the process of Delivering as One (DaO). I like to think of coordination as the engine that keeps the system moving, in terms of programmes, operations and communication.
SARC Assignment in South Sudan
My days are not routinely the same but generally I meet with the Residence Coordinator (RC) often and he tasks me with matters that require urgent action and/or follow up in that day or week, it is also an opportunity for me to bring up matters that require his attention. The RC in South Sudan is also the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General (DSRSG), the Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP’s Resident Representative and so my role as Special Assistant has extended to all his `hats’, from the peacekeeping mission, to the humanitarian and the development side. Sometimes I sit in high level meetings as note taker, follow up with different agencies on actions agreed upon at UNCT or HCT meetings, liaise with government counterparts on behalf of the RC, discuss agenda items and set up meetings. On an annual basis, I have also been responsible for the Resident Coordinator’s Annual Report (RCAR), collated the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) work plan and I also have an oversight role for the interagency Operations Management Team (OMT) and the Programme Management Team (PMT) and the UN Communications Group (UNCG). I have been responsible for formulating the zero and first drafts of important high level reports such as the annual ECOSOC report on South Sudan and collating specialised inputs for the final draft report from different agencies on the same, among other things. So you can imagine it is a combination of activities a Special Assistant does, most importantly I have to use my judgement and soft skills to assist the RC in his role as strategic head of the UN Country team.
What has been the most rewarding experience for you at your duty station?
There are many. South Sudan is a challenging and complex environment but what stands out was three interagency fact finding missions (to ascertain possible early recovery) - planned together with UNDP, WFP, UNESCO, UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA, including NGOs and Donors - that I organized in the summer of 2014, to the Greater Pibor Administrative Area (GPAA), these were to Pibor, Boma and Pochalla. The GPAA was established as key component of the Peace Agreement signed in early May 2014 between the Government of South Sudan and the South Sudan Democratic Movement/South Sudan Defence Army (SSDM/SSDA- COBRA Faction) led by David Yau Yau (DYY). The fact-finding missions were organized as a direct response to DYY’s request for development assistance from the international community. The missions’ objective was to understand the realities in the GPAA and assess what would enable prioritization and sequencing of actions to preserve peace and reduce the risk of returning to conflict, given that the area had a history of settling conflicts and disputes through armed or violent means. It was generally understood that the peace agreement itself held the potential for shaping new conflicts. Therefore it was hoped that transforming this particular conflict would not only be a result in-itself but a vehicle to achieve sustained political settlement and an opportunity to demonstrate peace dividends through delivery of early recovery efforts and longer-term development.
As such the missions conducted wide consultations with local communities, these included targeted interaction with different groups e.g. the elderly, women, youth, and children to find out what their needs were and then eventually design programmes responding to these needs. The groups visually mapped their geographic space in terms of boundaries, resources, roads, grazing land, food sources, and markets. They also highlighted what in their view threatened their security and inhibited the stimulation of livelihoods activities.
This was a very fulfilling process for me to be able to get firsthand what the priorities of the local communities were. Sometimes there is a tendency to assume too much and impose solutions or what we, as development workers, think is the best way forward. This bottom up approach gave me an appreciation of the value of engaging local communities before projects and programmes are designed.
What is the most challenging in your SARC experience?
On a professional level, I am used to working in a specialized area, being a SARC and working in coordination the last two and half years has meant dealing with many different issues, this has sometimes been challenging in that one feels you are never really delving into issues on an analytical level but mainly coordinating and putting together different inputs from specialized agencies. The upside is that you get exposed to many issue areas and therefore have better insight and one’s multitasking skills are further horned, however, in practice it can be challenging when the completion of a task depends on the inputs of many different actors operating with different deadlines and managing competing priorities. On a personal level working in a non-family duty station has been at times challenging because I have small children, but my husband has been very supportive and this has greatly assisted me focus on my work.